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14th of March 2006
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Review: Sian Bonnel at Galleri Image

These days you can experience the first exhibition in Denmark by English artist Sian Bonnell, “everyday dada”, at Galleri Image. With a point of departure in the universe of adverticement aesthetics, Bonnell literally plays with food – but in an interesting way in terms of both content and aesthetics. Ditte Maria Bangsund-Pedersen reviews.

Text: Ditte Maria Bangsund-Pedersen
Photo: Kindly lent to aarhus.nu by Sian Bonnell

The exhibition “everyday dada” is shown at Galleri Image from the 4th until the 26th of March 2006.

House Beautiful # 15
Natural meat sweat on the walls

Is it the case that food is not to be played with, or that food on the floor is hygienically reprehensible? Such  speculations  would certainly appear  reasonable to most sensible parents. However, such “dull” advice does not appeal to everyone. In the current exhibition at Galleri Image, everyday dada, you can experience photographs of staged food scenarios by British artist Siann Bonnell. Pictures in which playing with food as much as possible becomes a virtue in itself. In fact, Bonnell does it so well it is not always easy to spot what is food and what is not – in the first place. Perhaps it is because we are not used to perceiving the natural sweat of cut meats as an alternative to bathroom wallpaper, or toast bread with and without dark brown paste as an alternative to chequered floors? This description of the exhibition might sound like the results of a food fight! Nevertheless, the content of everyday dada lies far from the kindergartenish (childlike??) fooling about.

House Beautiful # 2   House Beautiful # 11

The exhibition consists of four sequences of pictures: Scenic Cookery, House Beautiful, Forensic House Keeping and Serving Suggestion. Especially in House Beautiful, one could ask why the colours and the compositions are the first elements that catch the eye – and not the food? Apparently, the images can easily be mistaken for ads from a decorating magazine! Could it be that our perception has been overloaded with so many lifestyle programs that the only thing we can think of when introduced to “delicious” images of interior design is whether or not the style suits our own home? If you consider Bonnell´s advertisement aesthetics and how she carefully places details and colours in their surrounding space, it is certainly difficult to exclude the possibility that something critical, in terms of the eyes of the consumer, smoulders in the meat sweat. Therefore, as a viewer, you might consider the following: what was your first thought when you saw that interesting 70s wallpape, from a distance. And you might even conclude: perhaps there are limits as to how creative these programs should be in terms of decorating suggestions?

On the subject of playing with food and art, creativity has no limits, which Bonnell further points out in Serving Suggestion. The title refers to the food suggestions that are often found on various food packages. For example, Bonnell uses a stapler to serve bacon and eggs. Or she uses a pancake as a cloth for the bucket etc. It is as though she continuously wants to emphasize that food can be so many more things than just eaten. Food is “consumable” in various ways, so to speak. Having a background in sculpture, it comes as no surprise that Bonnell shows so much interest in the sculptural potential of food. Thus, in Scenic Cookery food is directly connected with sculpture as Bonnell makes corned beef appear like Stonehenge in a landscape photograph. Moreover, like a detective in Forensic House Keeping, she pays careful attention to the objectifying details of food, bringing out its texture. As Louise Wolthers points out in the exhibition catalogue, it is important to point out that all of the food used by Bonnell is typically English; hence, with references to Stonehenge and Durdle Door at Dorset it would be interesting to interpret herwork in relation to cultural heritage and national identity.

Scenic Cookery # 6   Scenic Cookery # 4

Serving Suggestion # 19   Serving Suggestion # 1

Food and art have earlier been combined before in different situations – but often with an emphasis on the more repulsive aspects. Take for example the perishable pig sculptures by Christian Lemmerz that were exhibited at the Esbjerg Museum of Art – or the Chinease artist, Zhang Huang, dressing himself with a raw meat suit, to name a few extreme examples. However, when Bonnell in her everyday dada combines food and art in a delicious advertisement  way it all seems to add up to an original whole that contains interesting clashes of interests: the immortalizing photograph versus the perishable food sculpture, or the delicious aesthetics versus the unattractive hygienic aspects etc. All references that open up a cross aesthetic field in which sculpture, staged photography, and cultural issues can be combined into a shared aesthet ic idiom. Under any circumstances, the essential meaning behind Bonnell´s work can easily be found, where the finely processed meat collides with the delicious interior spaces, besmearing the glossy lifestyle magazines with a more critical perception.

Generally speaking, one could fear that the food images of Sian Bonnell are merely as aesthetic and decorative as the magazines they tend to criticize, based on a humorous idea – and no more. But part of the thrill of seeing these photographs is exactly the surprise of discovering all of the different levels they enclose – besides being creative, beautiful, and effective. Consequently, in the present cold weather I warmly recommend a visit to Galleri Image. You will not regret it.

Related links:
Sian Bonnells homepage: www.sianbonnell.com
Zhang Huangs meat suit: www.afsnitp.dk/aktuelt/13/huan.html

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